Alberta Premier Redford touts west-east pipeline project in New Brunswick

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Alberta Premier Alison Redford stepped up her efforts to promote a proposal to ship oil to the East Coast, saying Canada needs the project to go ahead to improve access to lucrative markets abroad.

Redford spent Friday touring New Brunswick, where she found a receptive ear to a development that could see crude shipped from her province’s oilsands as far east as Saint John.

She said she wasn’t concerned about environmental opposition to the construction of pipelines, an issue that has dogged the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline proposals in recent months.

“We face these challenges all the time, whether we’re talking about a pipeline or shale gas development or building a road or building a hospital,” she said alongside Premier David Alward after delivering a speech to the New Brunswick legislature in Fredericton.

“But at the end of the day, the other choices we have to make are about whether or not we’re going to be able to continue to fund a public health care system, a public education system, to be able to continue to invest in wonderful universities to educate generations to come and to diversify our economy.

“My only point is that it’s not an either-or conversation. We’ve always done a very good job in Canada of being able to balance those interests and I think we can continue to do that.”

She said one reason why the project should go ahead is because Alberta’s lack of direct access to a coastal shipping route contributed to a $6 billion slide in her province’s revenues this year.

Redford later travelled to the port city of Saint John to deliver her pro-pipeline message at the local board of trade.

Eric Poirier, chairman of the Saint John Board of Trade, said the development would be welcome.

“This is a Canadian story,” he said. “This is something that will advance a national energy strategy that will bring benefits for the whole country.”

TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) is considering to convert an existing 3,000-kilometre natural gas pipeline to carry crude into Quebec, with the possibility of a 1,400-kilometre extension to Saint John.

The Calgary-based company has set a deadline of June 17 to accept binding commitments from oil producers before determining whether to proceed with the development, known as the Energy East Pipeline project. It says if the development proceeds, it could begin shipping as much as 850,000 barrels of oil per day in late 2017.

Alward said he is confident the proposal can stand on merit, adding that it would create thousands of jobs during construction and greatly benefit his province’s economy.

Following Redford’s visit to the Saint John Board of Trade, she and Alward hopped aboard a helicopter to tour the Irving Oil refinery, the country’s largest, and the deepwater port facilities in Saint John where the pipeline could ultimately end.

Paul Browning, president of Irving Oil, said his company would be interested in refining Alberta oil. He said the company could consider revisiting plans to expand the refinery.

“I think Canada needs us to increase our capability here, and a pipeline that concludes in Saint John greatly increases the probability that will be a great investment for us in the future,” he said.

BP and Irving Oil shelved plans in 2009 for an $8-billion second refinery in Saint John, citing weakened demand for refined fuel products over the next few decades.

Redford’s visit to New Brunswick comes four months after Alward conducted a similar trip to Alberta, where he toured the oilsands.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said it expects crude oil output in Canada to hit 6.7 million barrels per day by 2030, up from 3.2 million last year.